17 May 2009

A new priest levelling spec: 10-40

You know when you've been drinking and it's late and you're really, really tired and just want to get home and you wish you could teleport to your bed instead of struggling with the Tube or night bus or taxi or interminable walk?

Your first 39 levels of life as a shadow priest are exactly like that. It's painful and boring and you just want it to end NOW but stick with it, because the comforting, snug warmth of your shadowform bed is mere moments away.

Like your drunken stumble home, there's no one right way to go. But levelling, as I have discovered, is painful enough as it is without hamstringing yourself with a stupid build. So we're going to have a stab at picking an optimum route all the same. Think of me as that chilli kebab you snatched from the takeaway to sustain you on the journey, and try not to think about the indigestion it will give you.

This isn't a fun process. Most of these talents are tuned for raiding and balanced around shadowform's damage modifier (hold onto that, it does get easier). The absence of many shining talents at least means there's plenty of wiggle room in the build. I'd encourage you to deviate in both the order and placement of points wherever you think it would work better for your play style.

Let me know how it works out for you :)

Levels 10-12 — spirit tap
Since the nerf to base mana regeneration, this talent has lost a lot of its lustre (two thirds, to be precise) but it's still one of the strongest early talents for levelling. If managed correctly it will help reduce downtime and keep you killing for longer. ('Managed' means ensuring you're out of the five-second rule when your target dies. It's a very, very boring way to level and we're going to break this rule as soon as we can. Around level 30 or so...)

Please under no circumstances put points in improved spirit tap — at least until you get shadowform and even then not unless you are running dps in instances a lot (I still wouldn't advise it). The buff from improved spirit tap, which is very weak to start with, can only be triggered by a mind blast crit (at least for now) — which is in itself a very rare occurrence at your level (5 or 6 per cent crit, am I right?) — and is overwritten by spirit tap anyway. This is a Talent You Should Not Take (TYSNT).

Levels 13-14 — shadow power
This is a beautiful talent that is almost utterly worthless to new priests, but you're going to spend points here because the alternative is worse.

Level 15-17 — shadow focus
Half your spells at this level are still holy, and this only affects shadow spells. Nonetheless, improving your chance to hit with spells is important for efficiency and there's nothing worse than wasting mind blast's cooldown for no reason.

Levels 18-20 — shadow power
We're going to go back and fill out this talent in the absence of anything better. Are you spotting a pattern here?

Levels 21-24
This is where it gets really miserable. You need to spend four points to get to tier four and have a plethora of mediocre talents to choose between. You can discount shadow affinity (a TYSNT) and take your pick between the rest of the shite:
  • Improved shadow word: pain (2) — an abysmal talent even when raiding, two points here will boost your pain ticks by about two damage. Remember, your wand hits harder...
  • Improved psychic scream (2) — it helps speed up fear-flay grinding (I'll explain in a minute) and it's a pre-requisite for silence, but neither of those things are strong arguments for blowing points here
  • Improved mind blast (5) — reducing the cooldown on a spell that you probably only use once per mob is a silly thing to do, surely?
  • Mind flay (1) — the iconic shadow priest spell, but a stiff breeze causes more damage than rank one, the base range is gimped, and until you get pushback protection from improved shadow form, there's no use spamming this point-blank

I personally went 2/2 in improved shadow word: pain and 1/1 in mind flay on the basis that I'd have to get them some time. Then 1/2 in improved psychic scream for fear-flay, but not feeling particularly happy about it.

Levels 25-26 — shadow reach
You are probably still pulling with holy fire at this level, which is not affected by this talent. But it does mean you can make more use of mind flay's snare as the mob runs towards you. Marginally useful.

Leve 27 — improved psychic scream
We're going to finish this off to ensure fear is off cooldown pretty much every mob we take on. This is essential for effective fear-flay grinding, which I'll stop hinting at cryptically and now explain.

So — line up your mob, cast your opening nukes, and dot the mob as it runs at you. If you move back while dotting, you should have time to get in one mind flay before it reaches melee range. Now you cast fear and mind flay it while it flits around. (Fear-flay, see? Well I didn't promise anything complicated.)

You rely on the range (with shadow reach) and snare of mind flay to keep the mob under contol. You can almost always find room to do this outdoors, and mind flay usually keeps the feared mob in range. You've got to be prepared for an add or two occasionally, but the original mob is usually dead by the time the add arrives, so no big deal. In fact, the biggest problem with this method is fear breaking early, but it's pretty reliable until later levels (Outland, as I recall, although fears now apparently break after less damage — I'll do some intrepid testing for you another time!)

You learn rank 2 of mind flay at level 28, and from that point the spell gets much easier to use — especially if combined with the glyph of shadow word: pain (more on glyphs in a later post.) This method is more mana-efficient than shielding, but then you are more likely to be casting when the mob dies, wasting a good chunk of spirit tap. I'd say the disadvantages pretty much balance out. This method wins for me because it's more interactive, and killing with mind flay is a helluva lot more fun than wanding. Try it out and see what you think. If you really don't think it's for you, those points in improved psychic scream would be better spent elsewhere. Improved mind blast, perhaps.

Levels 28-29 — shadow weaving
Oh god, is this the best we can do? Clearly I think the answer is yes, otherwise I wouldn't be recommending this talent next. But it's really not a good talent at this stage of your levelling — again, it's something that will be much more useful later on.

Veiled shadows, in case you haven't already realised, is a TYSNT.

Level 30 — vampiric embrace
Levels 31-32 — improved vampiric embrace
Continuing our theme of picking up talents that will be much more useful later on, these really will be points well spent eventually. In shadowform, you can pretty much take a beating one-on-one without loosing health. If you want, you can defer picking them up for a few levels, but the alternatives aren't that much better.

Level 33 — silence
I admit, silence is a situational spell, but it comes in handy while levelling to reduce incoming damage and pull ranged mobs into fear range. If you didn't take improved psychic scream, take your pick where to throw this point.

Level 34 — shadow weaving
We need to spend one more point to move up a tier and finishing this talent off feels as good a place as any to start. If you move between mobs quickly enough, you can ensure this buff is maintained at a full 10 per cent for as long as your mana holds out.

Levels 35-37 — improved devouring plague
This talent boosts devouring plague's tick value way above shadow word: pain — these are points well spent, even at this level. The mana cost and cooldown mean you probably won't be using it on every mob, but it's great for tougher mobs and to set-and-forget on adds.

Levels 38-39 — mind melt
The increased crit chance to mind blast and mind flay are pretty useful but we're really interested in this talent for the boost to dot crits — yet another thing we won't have till shadow form. But look, we're so very, very close now.

Level 40 — shadowform
Thank fuck for that. Your talents should now look something like this. It's been a complete pain in the arse, hasn't it? Was it this hard the first time round?

Don't worry, it's all over now. From here on in it's a complete joy :)

I'm going to take a break from talents to talk a bit about early gear choices, spells and glyphs next. We'll come back to talents and finish up levelling after that.


Nephalim said...

Thank you Merlot, this is very well written, detailed and educational, helped a lot! Fear-Flay was the biggest revelation for me, hated fear up to now, but now I see how it can be useful, can't wait to try it out! I'm looking forward to the next post :)

Also, this might be a surprise, though its very possible that it's only a personality thing, but I'm actually finding leveling the priest (pre shadowform!) much easier and more fun then my hunter. The slower speed of kills leaves me more time to think about my next spell and the temporary protection provided by PW:S takes the panic out of nastier situations. And the abilities to buff and heal others are just pure win, I love that now I'm really able to properly help others :)

Anonymous said...

I remember from my leveling that spirit tap worked out to a fix amount of mana gain. It's not like that anymore it seems. Let's call the amount we normally regenerate, OO5SR, in 15 seconds M.

15 seconds not casting, no spirit tap: M
15 seconds not casting, spirit tap: 2*M
15 seconds casting, no spirit tap: 0
15 seconds casting, spirit tap: 2*0.83*M = 1.66*M

5 seconds casting, 10 seconds not casting, spirit tap: 2*(0.83+1+1)/3*M = 1.89*M

As you can see, there's a difference but it's not the end of the world. The difference you see is more likely the mana you save by wanding.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I made a mistake earlier. It used to be 50% of regen active in combat, which made 15 seconds while casting = M and M-0 = 2M-M. So spirit tap has seen a buff since then.

In fact, the more I think about it, spirit tap is much more effective in combat than outside of combat.

Wouldn't the best scenario be, after killing a mob, pull the next one immediately and cast as much as possible for 10 seconds. Then start wanding 5 seconds before life tap runs out. And start casting on the next mob when spirit tap procs again.

It doesn't make sense casting anything without spirit tap. :-)

Merlot said...

Hmm, I can see you are right in a way - in relative terms, the 'while casting' benefit is closer to the OO5SR now than it used to be.

But spirit tap was never explicitly buffed, they simply raised the 'while casting' benefit to account for the base nerf to mana regeneration. The amount of mana you regenerate while casting under the effect of spirit tap is precisely the same now as it ever was.

Put simply, you'll never regenerate as much mana from spirit tap while casting as you will out of the five second rule.

What I don't know, and what I should really work out, is how much difference it makes - not because of how you might chain pull, but to determine exactly how important it is to be out of the five second rule when the mob dies.

It used to be *very* important in the sense that it made a lot of difference to the amount of mana you regenerated. If the difference post-nerf is small, then maybe it doesn't matter so much.

Nephalim said...

Just started to use the 5 sec rule yesterday, didn't know about it before that, and I have to say it makes a huge difference for spirit tap. I can say this with certainty because I'm mostly leveling by grinding. Before I read your guide I had to stop to drink after every fifth mob, but now, as long as I don't pull multiple mobs by accident I'm able to go on indefinitely without drinking at all.

Daniel said...

I use to be discipline from levels 24-27 for survivability/endurance, but found my mana went too quickly from constantly using shield.

Re-specced shadow, and I am able to go on almost endlessly killing mobs by wanding when the target is @ 40% health with SWP ticking down. At level 27, I survived a chain pull of 6 level 30's in a mine environment, with the help of a healing potion and herbalism healing, but it was the mana regen of spirit tap that allowed me to shield/DoT/Fear then continue wanding.

Kevin said...

I just finished blasting through to level 51 on my shadow priest and throughly enjoyed it and I have to say: you did it wrong.

Fear-flay sounds cool and all, but PW:S, mind blast, SW:P, mind flay til dead works and works quickly and has significantly less mob control problems. Yes, it's a little mana intensive in that you will usually only be able to do 2 mobs between drinks, but welcome to the world of mana users post regen nerf.

It seems to me that you tried to shoehorn the old way of leveling a priest into the current reality of low-level priests and it just didn't fit.

Merlot said...

You're probably right Kevin. But I hate drinking more than I hate killing mobs slowly, it's sad. Here's hoping for a crumb from the Q&A...

Bobskeh said...

I know this was posted a while ago but I just started an S-Priest and found ur guide, I was wondering if you could suggest a Shot rotation to go with this for max DPS, I just hit 30 and still pulling only 30-35 DPS :S

Merlot said...

Bobskeh - at your level the only way to boost dps significantly is to burn through your mana pool. Dot them up and unload inner fire, mind blast and smite at every cooldown. If you don't mind drinking, that's an option, but I prefer to be a bit more efficient. I'd recommend pulling with inner fire, casting shadow word: pain, mind flay till they reach you, fear, mind flay some more (i.e. 'fear/flay'). If that isn't enough, thrown in a mind blast or devouring plague (but they'll chew through your mana).

If you can't fear, or don't want to, the alternative is to shield and mind flay.

With both of these methods, if you're aiming for efficiency over speed, you should ideally stop casting and wand for the last few seconds; if not, just flay till dead.

Both the glyph of mind flay and the glyph of shadow word: pain are strong choices for fear/flay - it's a tradeoff between damage and range.

When you get some decent gear and some pushback protection, you may not even need to shield or fear, just flay and wand right in their faces :)

Bobskeh said...

Yes thats about what im doing now I have it set up as:

Mind Flay->
Vamp Embrace->
Holy Fire->
Devour Plague->
Mind Blast->

and then either wand if mana is low or Fear/Flay, I put Holy Fire in there coz it's a pretty strong attack at this level and had a DoT as well if small and this seems to work ok, But I was just wondering with this set-up if there would be a set rotation to follow coz im still a nub at this S-Priest thing ^^
I Just hit 32 about 5mins ago and it seems to be easy enuff with mobs as long as I dont pull more than 2 or 3, With Vamp Embrace Im rarely getting anywhere near dead and thats only if i pull more than 1 or 2 (Accidental pulls of course ^^) but Mana WHOA! I can kill 3 JUST before I have to drink again...Spose it'll get better with time :D Thanks Merlot ;)


Anonymous said...


I just levelled from 1 - 49 and I can say that the approach I took was:

Devo Plague

Start the next mob when the first one was at 33%.

I needed to drink occasionally, but it tended to be every 10 or so mobs. I also am a herbalist, so I made good use of that ability as well. Once I hit 30, I didn't need to shield or to heal - the VE covered the rest. (My cast order was: VE, MB, SW:P, DP, Wand).

I think it helped that I was playing a Blood Elf, as I could periodically recover 6% of my mana through their racial.

I have to say that once I hit 40, though, things got a LOT better.

Thanks for the guide Merlot - although I didn't follow it I found that you had a lot of helpful tips and suggestions throughout it.

Anonymous said...

I have an 80 Priest Hamacus on Sen'jin that I leveled to max in vanilla WoW.

Maybe it because I know the class in and out but it seems much easier to level now. Less down time, fewer deaths, and a lot more fun. Most times

I feel like I am in total control of the mobs, even if I pull one or two more.

I also use:

Devo Plague

My new Priest is 24 and only use fear flay when needed. I hate drinking as others have stated. Makes me feel like a friggin Mage...and I ain't no stinkin Mage!

Warcraftguide said...

You have an excellent info in priest levelling.

But main thing to keep in mind when leveling your Priest is that you will do that in 2 phases. I know not many people recommend this strategy but after levelling 2 of my priests to L80. I found this is what works best for me.