So you’ve made yourself a priest, have you? Delightful. You’re in for a treat.
That’s said with just a bit of sarcasm. Just a bit, because while your shadow priest is going to be doing some amazing damage and awesome group utility later on, leveling through the early stages can range from numbingly boring to hair-pullingly frustrating.
Okay, so maybe you haven’t made your priest quite yet; you’re still thinking about race or faction. What are your choices? For Alliance, you can go Night Elf, Dwarf, Draenei, or Human. For the Horde? Troll, Undead, or Blood Elf. While racial abilities give each its own special flavor, the beginning stats become a moot point very quickly. The Belf abilities – mana tap & arcane torrent – offer a source of free mana and an early Silence. Sold! to an American. That’s what I picked. (Side note – If you choose to go Alliance, the Draenei racial “Inspiring Presence” offers +1% hit. That’s no biggie now, but will help an end-game raiding priest who’s having to stack +hit on gear.) EDIT – as of Wrath, Mana Tap is no more. Arcane Torrent still silences and returns a bit of mana, but note that it’s a very small range.
Soloing: At level 5 you can acquire your very first wand; I suggest you do so. Enchanters can create Lesser Magic Wand; at 11.3 dps this is far better than any spell available to you. So, let’s see, by level 6 you’ve got PW:S, Smite, SW:P, and your wand. Select a mob you believe you can pull by itself, get to maximum range, PW:S yourself, and wait a moment for the Weakened Soul effect to partially fade. You should be able to Smite twice before the mob gets to you – now strafe away (in a safe direction, of course!) while dropping a SW:P on your mob. Stop moving as soon as your spell fires and begin wanding your mob. Your shield should last longer than the mob; if not, the Weakened Soul debuff should have worn off which allows you to re-shield. Finishing off your mob by wanding allows you to conserve mana and reduces your down-time; your mana will also start to regenerate once you’ve gone 5 seconds since your last spellcast.
Partying: What’s your role in parties? To heal, for the most part, at least during these early levels. Or course, there are other healing classes, each with their “specialties,” and you may have a druid or pally in your party who just WANTS to do it – but don’t count on it. Don’t lose sight of the positives – every good guild appreciates a capable and willing healer, and most of them will be more than happy to help you level and gear up for the good of all. Finding a PuG (pick-up group) is far easier for you than any dps class, and you can expect several whispers during any given play session asking you to come heal dungeons or group quests.
Later on as you work your way down the Shadow talent tree, you can contribute far more as a dps class yourself. Vampiric Touch and Vampiric Embrace offer group-wide health and mana based on your shadow damage output; if mages get called “vending machines,” expect to be referred to as a “mana-battery” on occasion. EDIT: as of Wrath, VT only returns mana when you use Mind Blast. Priests also have two rather limited forms of crowd-control: Shackle Undead only works on – duh – undead, while Mind Control only works on humanoids. SU is by far the more reliable, as MC requires a bit of luck and your awareness of your toon AND your target’s surroundings. Run your MC’d target too far from you, and it will break. Screw up and hit one of your toon’s abilities (instead of your target’s) and MC will break. If you’re going to try to MC, choose a healer whenever possible. Double advantage of preventing your mobs from being healed while still being able to drop heals on your group’s tank.
Important Stats: So you’re starting to see some green gear, and you’re wondering which stats are most important to you. Focusing solely on PvE, you’re going to want to pick gear that offers bonuses to Int (mana and increased chance to spell-crit), Spi (quicker regeneration of health and mana), and then Stam (more hit points = less chance for a dead priest). Of course, my opinion on stat-prioritizing is just that – an opinion – and others will have different views. In any case, rest assured that you have absolutely no need for Strength or Agility. If Prin catches you stick-whacking a mob (past level 5) like some noob melee-priest she will step out of the shadows and Smite your silly butt. No, wait, she can’t, she’ll be in Shadow Form and one can’t use Holy spells while shifted… Okay, she’ll SW:Death you, and damn the consequences. You have been warned.
Weapons: Priests are born knowing how to wield maces. What? Whose bright idea was THAT? *Sigh* whatever, get thee to a capital city post-haste and ask the nearest guard for the Weapon Master. Most importantly you want the ability to wield a staff so do what you must to train in staves. Even if it means dancing for silver on a local mailbox. Yes, yes, we’ve all done it, you’re not too good to do it, either. Most of the best caster-stat weapons in the game will be staves, especially while you’re leveling.
Talents: So you’ve made it to level 10, and you’ve got your very first talent point to spend. Where should it go? Well, you want a Shadow Priest, so obviously the Shadow tree, right? Actually – no. I’m going to suggest that your first five talent points go smack into Wand Specialization in the Discipline tree. Trust me on this one – you want that extra wand damage. Starting at level 15 you’ll want to drop points into the Shadow tree on Spirit Tap. Once you get to level 50 you can re-spec and get Shadowform, dropping the Wand Spec until later – if at all.
Click or Key?: Because most of your spells have a cast time, you’ll spend most of the fight stationary. For this reason, I recommend WASD to move and clicking your spells / abilities on your hot bars. While healing, however, I’d strongly suggest the following: Have a healing hot bar set up with PW:S on the 1 key, and your most often used heals on 2-6. I have Greater Heal, Prayer of Healing, Renew, Flash Heal, and Binding Heal. Now while party healing, get yourself into position (within range of the other party members, but at max distance from the mob) and move your left hand up to the 1-6 row. Use your mouse to select party members’ portraits and key the heal spells with your left hand. (Extra special thanks to D, who taught me this early on.)
So what final words of wisdom does Prin have for your newborn priest? Practice. Practice everything. Get invited to an RFC run and learn to heal. Head out into the wilderness and try different tactics and each new spell you learn.
Find out where your limits are – and then push them.